WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

REST IN PEACE: We would like to send our condolences to the family of Croatian MP Miroslav Tudjman who passed away after complications with Covid-19. The 75-year-old is a longtime HDZ MP and son of the first Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

FROM JERUSALEM TO PRISTINA: Israel and Kosovo formally established diplomatic relations today. Kosovo FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla and Israeli counterpart Gabriel Ashkenazi will hold a virtual ceremony for the occasion. Establishing diplomatic ties was one of the fourteen bullet points of Kosovo’s Washington Agreement after meetings at the White House. At the same meeting,

  • Serbia agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of July, but President Aleksandar Vučić disputes the decision is final. Kosovo will open an embassy in Jerusalem, as well.
  • State Department Spokesperson Ned Price wrote on Twitter that it was “a historic day. When our partners are united, the United States is stronger. Deeper international ties help further peace and stability in the Balkans and Middle East.”

VUČIĆ VISTS MACRON IN PARIS: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić yesterday met with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron for a marathon four-hour meeting. The main topics of conversation are Serbia’s EU accession and the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.

  • President Macron highlighted the strength of Serbia-France relations. “The dialogue we had for three years is essential for me,” said Macron.
  • On EU negotiations, Macron said, “Last year, we defined a new methodology for conducting negotiations on accession to the EU. I want to thank President Vucic who said from the very beginning he supported it and that we could move forward together to fulfil obligations to accelerate reforms and necessary progress for Serbia towards the EU and continue to respond together to the aspirations of Serbia’s people.” He also underscored the role of EUSR Miroslav Lajčák.
  • Meanwhile, President Vučić announced his French counterpart will visit Serbia in autumn. “The visit was great, Macron is coming to Serbia in September or October, and it will be a big event. Many contracts will be signed,” said Vučić.
  • He added, “We linked it with Serbia’s European path. I believe we will have the support of France on the European path.”
  • On the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Vučić said, “two are needed for the negotiations” while maintaining that Macron will “have an important role.”

SPEAKING OF EU ACCESSION…: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Belgrade-based Cord Magazine that he will advocate for Albania and N. Macedonia to officially open EU accession talks in the first half of 2021 and that he is a friend of the Western Balkans.

  • Kurz said, “North Macedonia, in particular, has developed into an exemplary EU candidate, and I regret that it was not possible to open accession negotiations in 2020. Austria will advocate for the launch of long-overdue membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania in the first half of 2021.”
  • He added, “We all only stand to lose from unnecessary delays in the enlargement process. The future of the whole region lies in the EU, and it is in our strategic interest to bring the region into the EU as quickly as possible.”
  • On the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, he said, ” Serbia has a unique responsibility in demonstrating that this region is forging ahead on its European path by significantly accelerating its own reform efforts and delivering concrete and tangible results in the rule of law and other fundamental areas. Continuous engagement in good faith to negotiate and achieve a comprehensive and legally binding normalisation agreement is crucial to progress on the European path.”

KOSOVO ELECTIONS:

  • Leader of Vetëvendosje Albin Kurti has officially been barred from running in the February 14 parliamentary elections after he lost an appeal. Kurti and five other members of the party were initially barred, but the appeals panel allowed two participate in the elections after appeal. Vetëvendosje is expected to win the elections.
  • Meanwhile, the Kosovo’s Election Complaints and Appeals Panel also banned Emin Neziraj from running as a member of the Bosniak New Democratic Party (NDS) after ruling he was an ethnic Albanian. Neziraj is submitting an appeal to the Supreme Court to prove his ethnicity and run as a member of the NDS.

ZAEV WARNS AGAINST BOYCOTTING THE 2021 CENSUS: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev warned that boycotting the April 2021 census would only undermine N. Macedonia’s standing in Europe.

  • Zaev said, “the boycott brings only confusion among the citizens, serious damage to the state and nothing good, nothing positive. The call for a boycott is irresponsible behavior and lack of elementary awareness that by not conducting the census we become the only country that will not be able to plan any development from economic, educational, cultural point of view.”
  • He added, “No investors will show interest in investing when they sees that the country does not have the basic statistics on its resources for the official workforce, the market, or consumer spending.”
  • N. Macedonia has not conducted a census in 20 years.

RFE/RL PROFILE ON AMB. DJURIĆ: RFE/RL’s Todd Prince wrote an extensive piece about Serbian Ambassador to the U.S. Marko Djurić’s goals for improving the U.S.-Serbia relationship and even plans to open a new consulate.

  • Amb. Djurić told Prince, “I’m convinced that we’ll have a more solid base for closer political ties the closer we get in economic terms. And this is what we want to achieve. This is the strategy.”
  • Djurić added that Serbia looks to increase military-military cooperation in the U.S. “This is one reason why Serbia’s defense industry is looking for ways to partner with the U.S. defense industry, so that we can maybe jointly engage in certain projects,” said Djurić.
  • Meanwhile, former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott (2016-2019) said Djurić would play a big role in Washington because of his close relationship with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Amb. Scott said, “He is a guy who has Vucic’s ear, knows him well, and I think that’s a strength for any ambassador.”

CROATIA BLOCKS ITALIAN MEPs TO INVESTIGATE MIGRANT CRISIS: “Four Italian politicians have accused Croatian police of trying to prevent them from accessing an area on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina over the weekend, amid concern over the treatment of refugees in the region.

“The legislators, all Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from Italy’s Democratic Party (PD), had intended to reach the area between Croatia, an EU member state, and Bosnia, to investigate the conditions faced by asylum seekers there.

“Piero Bartolo, Brando Benifei, Pierfrancesco Majorino, and Alessandra Moretti say they were refused access to the border point on Saturday.” (al-Jazeera)

PM PLENKOVIĆ V. OPPOSITION: Croatian PM Andrej Plenković on Friday clashed with the opposition in parliament after a quorum could not be reached for post-earthquake funding. “They rudely turned their backs on these people by breaking the quorum. Not only did they not enable the adoption of the law on the post-earthquake reconstruction, they also prevented the declaration of the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Adriatic Sea and the adoption of the National Development Strategy. This showed an unbelievable degree of political destructiveness and lack of political culture,” said PM Plenković.

EU’S SZUNYOG ON DECAN/I MONASTERY: Head of the EU Office/Special Representative in Kosovo Tomáš Szunyog reiterated what U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Richard Kosnett said regarding the need to respect the Constitutional Court decision on the Decan/i Monastery. “Respecting court decisions, especially the decisions of the Constitutional Court, is the key principle of the rule of law,” said Szunyog. “Kosovo has good laws, which unfortunately are not sufficiently enforced. The fact that the decision of the Constitutional Court on the Visoki Decani monastery has not been implemented for five years is a serious issue,” added Szunyog.

RUSSIAN COVID VACCINE CORNER:

Russian vaccines to RS: Chairman and Serb Member of the Bosnian Presidency Milorad Dodik claims Russia will supply Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS), with 100,000 vaccines.

  • Dodik said, “Last night I spoke to some important people and received guarantees that the RS will receive 100,000 vaccines from the Russian Federation, from various producers and will begin the inoculation according to the inoculation program of the RS Health Ministry and Health institute. Vaccines will be free of charge and they won’t be commercialized. Everyone should be given the right to choose.”

Russia sends vaccines to BiH: But the initial shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was for only one container. Keep in mind that Bosnia and Herzegovina has not approved the use of the vaccine in the country.

Russia potentially to supply to the EU: Russian Ambassador Andrei Nesterenko announced that Russia is willing to supply EU countries with the Sputnik V vaccine, including Croatia. The EU is facing troubles with the shipment and supply of vaccines to all of its members.

CYPRUS TO THE MAINLAND VIA BALKANS: The EastMed pipeline has garnered support from Bulgaria, Hungary, and Serbia to build a 7 billion euro pipeline from Cyprus to the European mainland after a teleconference between the Ministers of Energy of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Israel, and Serbia. The project has already received 35 million euros in funding for four feasibility studies.

SLOVENIAN CULTURE MINISTER OUT?: “Former Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček from the opposition Social Democrats (SD) announced on Friday that a motion to oust Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti would be filed before 8 February, Culture Day. He said this would probably be one of the biggest presents to Slovenian culture for the holiday.

“According to Prešiček, the government is jeopardizing vital aspects of the country with its actions.

“The opposition party blames Simoniti for failing to enter into a dialogue with culture workers, for making unilateral moves regarding the self-employed in culture, and for failing to pay out funds for Slovenian film despite the contracts already been signed.” (Slovenia Times)

DODIK DOESN’T WANT BOSNIA TO PLAY IN BOSNIA: Bosnian Chairman and Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik said he does not support the national teams of Bosnia and Herzegovina to play games in the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska (RS). He added he was not a fan of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • “There is no need for that. It would be a high-risk event and we don’t need that. I am not the supporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina, none of its levels, but as someone who follows sports I am not immune to congratulating the success,” said Dodik.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Supporting Western Balkans’ EU Prospects Won’t Hurt Macron” by Srdjan Cvijić in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “China uses coronavirus vaccine to expand influence” in Deutsche Welle

OP-ED: “Montenegro wants to join the EU – but will Brussels have it? ” by Oralndo Crowcroft in Euro News

ANALYSISJustice on Hold: War Trial Delays Jeopardise Serbia’s Progress to EU” by Milica Stojanović in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Emigrant Life in Switzerland Inspires Prize-Winning Kosovo Writer” by Xhorxhina Bami in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “In Kosovo, War Prisoners Campaign to Save Their Old Jail” by Serbeze Haxhiaj in Balkan Insight

ENVIRONMENT: “The great clean-up begins: Workers start clearing plastic junk from Serbia’s ‘lake of trash’ after images of its pollution went around the world” by Ryan Fahey and Bhvishya Patel in Daily Mail

CULTURE: “Serb Hall closing after 70 years” (Photos) in The Milwaukee Journal Sential

SPORT: “Nikola Jokic discusses desire to be All-Star, represent Serbia” in Nugg Love

SPORT: “Komiti call on donations to save iconic football club Vardar” in The Macedonai Times

TRAVEL: “Why Every Bosnian should visit Trebinje at least once in their Life?” in The Sarajevo Times